Israel obstinate on settlements
JERUSALEM / RAMALLAH
An Israeli soldier tries to stop an argument between a Palestinian (R) and a settler, near the Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba in the West Bank city of Hebron. Israel’s prime minister has ordered the construction of 300 new homes in Beit El, a West Bank settlement. EPA photoIsrael’s plans to build hundreds of new homes in West Bank settlements have put Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at odds again with Washington and Palestine, without appeasing settlers furious over the government’s plan to dismantle an illegally built settler enclave.
On June 6, officials announced the government would build 850 apartments after Parliament, at Netanyahu’s urging, voted down a bill that would have legalized the Ulpana enclave and other settler outposts built illegally on privately held Palestinian land. The international community condemns settlement construction, and the Palestinians have refused to talk peace while Israel builds on land they claim for a future state.
Netanyahu found himself in the politically difficult position of having to carry out a Supreme Court ruling ordering the destruction of 30 apartments in Ulpana by July 1. Knowing it would not stand up to the court’s scrutiny, he pressured coalition lawmakers to vote down a proposal by hard-line legislators to legalize outposts built on privately held Palestinian land.
To blunt the blow to settlers, he vowed to build 300 more homes in the authorized settlement of Beit El, on whose outskirts Ulpana lies.
“Israel is a democracy that observes the law, and as prime minister I am obligated to preserve the law and preserve the settlements. And I say here that there is no contradiction between the two,” he said after the vote. Later, Construction Minister Ariel Attias announced that an additional 551 apartments would be built elsewhere in the West Bank.
‘Undermining all peace efforts’
“Thirty apartments will be evacuated, but 850 will be built instead,” said Attias in a statement. “Under the circumstances, this is a worthy solution.” Palestinians and Washington, however, disagreed.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat denounced the new construction as a measure “that undermines all efforts to revive the peacemaking between the two sides.” With 500,000 Israelis now
living on land claimed by the Palestinians, they say their dream of gaining independence is growing
ever more distant. Israel says negotiations must be conducted without preconditions.
In a sharply worded statement, the United States accused Israel of hindering peace efforts with the newly announced settlement construction and appeared to question both sides’ declared commitments to peacemaking.
“We’re very clear that continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. ... It impedes progress on any kind of comprehensive settlement, and that’s ultimately what everyone here, most importantly both sides, both parties, want to see happen. Or at least that’s what they claim to want to see happen.”
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down three years ago, and the Palestinians refuse to restart negotiations until Israel freezes settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim both areas, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, for a future state, along with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.